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Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: Bathtub Gin

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With her singularly enticing sound, equal parts Maria Muldaur mewl and breezy Blossom Dearie trill, few contemporary vocalists are as well suited to dustily vintage material as jazz-blues stylist Roberta Donnay. She affectively proved so three years ago when, teamed with her Prohibition Mob Band, she surveyed standards from the 1920s and ’30s on the charming A Little Sugar. Now she’s back for more.

Again Donnay pulls triple-duty as leader, arranger and producer (the last two credits shared with bassist Sam Bevan). Again she’s accompanied by the remarkably versatile PMB, as impressive at shaping a Louis Prima-worthy swinger as a dreamy ballad. Again Donnay winningly blends the familiar with the obscure, travelling from the sly sass of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” and tenderness of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” to the sophisticated verve of Harry Revel and Mack Gordon’s “Wake Up and Live” and zippy bounce of the Boswell Sisters’ “(We’ve Got to) Put the Sun Back in the Sky.” The album’s apex is Elizabeth Cotten’s Depression-era anthem “Shake Sugaree.”

Donnay closed A Little Sugar with a tune of her own, ably capturing the throwback zeitgeist with her “Empty Bed Blues.” This time she ventures further, co-writing four songs that fully fit the erstwhile ambiance: the fizzy, call-and-response title track; the rambling, Big Easy-inspired “Throw Your Heart (Over the Fence)”; the frolicsome “Happy Feet”; and the slithery, playful “Horizontal Mambo.”

Originally Published